Donors urged to dig deep to deliver Covid-19 vaccines to the world's poorest children

Sarah Newey
Gavi now vaccinates half the world's children - Hereward Holland /Reuters
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Prime minister Boris Johnson will urge the world to “come together to unite humanity in the fight against disease” as he opens a summit aiming to raise at least £6 billion for lifesaving vaccines for children in the world’s poorest countries.

Mr Johnson will make his call as host of the World Vaccine Summit, where more than 50 countries and organisations will make pledges to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which immunises children in developing countries.

Russia, the US and China are all hoped to be attending the virtual summit in a show of global solidarity over access to vaccines - though Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday he would not be personally attending.

The funding will enable Gavi to vaccinate a further 300 million children over the next five years against deadly diseases such as polio, typhoid and cholera. It will also help people in the developing world get access to any eventual coronavirus vaccine. 

The UK has already pledged £1.65 billion over the next five years, making it the organisation’s biggest donor. Over the last five years the UK contributed the equivalent of £1.44bn. This new UK pledge will enable Gavi to vaccinate 75 million children. 

Mr Johnson will tell world leaders: “I hope this summit will be the moment when the world comes together to unite humanity in the fight against disease.

“Just as the UK is the single biggest donor to the international effort to find a coronavirus vaccine, we will remain the world’s leading donor to Gavi, contributing £1.65 billion over the next five years.

“I urge you to join us to fortify this lifesaving alliance and inaugurate a new era of global health co-operation, which I believe is now the most essential shared endeavour of our lifetimes.”

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In a briefing to journalists earlier this week international development secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said she was “quietly optimistic” the summit would raise the necessary funds.

“We know vaccines work, which is why at [the] summit we need others to step up and pledge funds to Gavi, so it can continue to save the lives of millions of children and protect everyone from infectious diseases,” she said. 

The summit comes at a time when the world is focused on the hunt for a coronavirus vaccine, with more than 200 candidates in development.

However, there have been concerns around “vaccine nationalism” with countries hoarding vaccines developed within their borders.

This week Gavi announced that it is to launch an Advance Market Commitment (AMC) for future Covid-19 vaccines which it says will help secure access to the new shots for poorer countries.

The AMC mechanism should provide incentives to vaccine manufacturers to invest in large scale production capacity even as they develop new products and before full-scale trials have shown whether they work, Gavi's chief executive Seth Berkley told Reuters.

In return Gavi will agree to buy large quantities of vaccines at established and equitable prices to ensure initial doses are not immediately snapped up by rich countries.

However, last week pharmaceutical giants branded as “nonsense” a World Health Organization initiative which would see the development of a patent pool where drug firms would share data around any vaccines, treatments and diagnostics.

Gavi was founded in 2000 with a $750m donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation at a time when few children in developing countries were getting the six routine vaccinations recommended by the WHO. 

Gavi now vaccinates almost half of the world’s children, giving it power to negotiate vaccines at prices that are affordable for the poorest countries and to remove the commercial risks that previously kept manufacturers from serving them.

It also helps strengthen health systems by building vital infrastructure and training health workers. 

However, the great strides in tackling childhood diseases is at risk as the pandemic has disrupted many routine immunisation programmes across much of the world.

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Earlier this month Gavi, Unicef and the WHO said that routine immunisation had been hit in around 68 countries - both rich and poor - meaning that at least 80 million babies are at risk of diseases such as measles, polio and diphtheria.

Dr Berkley said:“Over the past two decades we have witnessed incredible progress boosting vaccine coverage in the world’s poorest countries: more children in more countries are now protected against more diseases than at any point in history.

“However, these historic advances in global health are now at risk of unravelling as Covid-19 causes unprecedented disruption to vaccine programmes worldwide. We face the very real prospect of a global resurgence of diseases like measles, polio and yellow fever, which would put us all at risk.”

Ms Trevelyan said the summit was “trying to get to grips with both the pandemic and reducing preventable deaths - which could otherwise be far far more substantial than Covid-19 might ever turn out to be”.

Romilly Greenhill, UK director of The ONE Campaign, said a successful summit was crucial.

"We’ve made huge progress in reducing preventable deaths and we mustn’t stop now. The summit will also lay the groundwork for an ultimate end to the coronavirus pandemic by strengthening health systems the world over," she said.

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